True Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder…………….After several years of traditional japanese training of silently standing next to established master chefs having to learn by just watching not asking or writing things down ever feeling and using all your senses to find your way in the kitchen, I bought my 2 first cooking books ever.
All my research and interest has always been Kyoto cuisine. This was before we had accsess to the internet as we do now so it was very hard to find any information on the subject and most japanese chefs in the uk at the time were more sushi chefs then Kyoto Ryori.
I never had any interest in cooking books before and came across these 2 books through another chef I was working with at the time.
The first was Michel Bras the second El Bulli.
Both gave me a new life as a chef and each one for a different reason.
The direct parallel I felt between Michael Bras and Kyoto cuisine was the emphasis on local vegetation and produce that is then used very seasonally. The region were Michael Bras is located in the south east of france that is very rich in native plant that are eatable and were not used in traditional french cooking before.
He used his unique local special environment (vegetation, plants etc), seasonally to create dishes that were unique to his particular region.
He invented in 1990 a dish called Gargouillou which is a combination of herb and vegetables, sprouts all kind of things he and his team would gather in the morning directly from nature. He then would prepare each item separately because a different leave requires a different kind of preparation and he wanted to treat each individual plant or vegetable perfectly.
He then arranged this dish like the nature environment, like a garden or a field.
The essence being from nature, carefully handled and then presented naturally again not really altering the actual structure of the item itself. I would say it is very natural but closely linked to the presentation of an artist painter creating movements and colours in a way that truly resonates the likes of master painters.
This concept is constantly being evolved and you will see globally many chefs adopting this kind of concept and plating style.
This dish was and is and ICON and revolutionised the culinary world.
He is the godfather of many things you see today.
This is what Ferran Adria did using the same idea starting point of collecting precious things as Michel brass but then he adds the decomposition of the very idea of the form of it then recreating it hence looking more like new textures, temperatures and flavours stimulated by ideas and research. Ferran had thought about this reinterpretation for some years before he presented and pionered this new interpretation and dimension.
This is now a very much a valid approach to many chefs in the world wich lead everyone to get more into many ways of questioning, experimenting, applying science, building new tools and machines amongst many other things:
In this dish you have vegetables, herbs and fruit. None of the components look like from what they came from. So there is a whole new dimension of what we can do with what we know and experience it in a way we never have done before.
Kyoto Kaiseki most certainly is all about this concept in some sense, the final form is different, the process is very specific and the presentation is traditional japanese kyoto style and dating back much longer.
However as a heritage and tradition, kyoto kaiseki entails many concepts and Ideas that to this day relate to even the most innovative concepts in the modern cooking movement.
I see parallels al the time and there is surely a relationship and influence from japanese cuisine that lent itself to the development of Nouvelle cuisine. Today Alinea, El Bulli, Mugaritz. Joan Roca and many other incredible chefs all have some japanese element present in there creations.
Mugaritz experience immediately resonates the 2 worlds of the spirit of Michael Bras and Ferran Adria which is most certainly the influence and most beautifully expressed! Like a perfect marriage between the 2.
Michel Bras is pure nature, so in tune and connected to a very deep place within. He is a poet, painter and artist of the most natural kind.
Watching him taking care of the many vegetables and plants in the kitchen is like the essence of something I can not describe in words.
Since then my appreciation and passion for taking care of vegetables and plants in the kitchen took a whole other meaning.
From having been to Kyoto and from seeing the Master chef in Mifune 1985 who was one of the head chefs of the Emperor of japan/ from Kyoto I was familiar with this kind of level of handeling vegetables and everything else with extreme care. The care for all produce in Kyoto Kaiseki cuisine is really on another level compared to what you usually would see in a western kitchen. Many times I have been told that I am wasting time with the utmost care of produce but I never can get my self to handle things roughly or in a disconnected way.
Modern kitchens never have time, the rush the pressure bam bam…..and the chefs often dont feel nothing toward the produce.
Respect and aw for everything is a good thing and listening to the produce letting it guide you to what it needs to be. Who teaches you to cut fish the master or the fish????
The vegetable itself is the master, the fish is or anything else you are working with the chefs can give clues and ideas but listening to what you are doing and being with this process fully is one way of doing things that should not go without value.
Watching Michel Bras handeling tings is as if the vegetables are at its happiest moment in the hands of Michel Bras and so is he.
I truly appreciate this quality and depth of refinement as in Kyoto the big master Shojin chefs are just like this.
Not all of them of course but I have seen 2 exceptional Shojin ryori chefs one was from a buddhist Zen temple in Kyoto.
The difference is only in the additional natural artistic expression on the plate were Kyoto cuisine has a formal arrangement based on tradition.
A new emotion and feeling about the world of vegetables entered my being and I have had this feeling within ever since. Like a gift that I treasure within my soul.
I am not anything like Michael Bras, of course not, but the value of truly appreciating something and valuing this so dearly is truly a gift beyond the fact that you have to be as great as he is. No there is no need for that just awareness and looking at vegetables and cooking in general from a new and different place inspired by a natural genius.
My understanding from this is that it is not the result but the appreciation of things that is the essence and determining factor of what you do………. nothing else.